Duke's brings back the sodas, but will it be the same?

The red fizzy drink is back, and this time it's going to quit playing elusive. Duke's raspberry soda, the iconic drink that spawned a few sorry copies in its absence, has been relaunched by Pepsi that took over Duke & Sons from the Pandole family in 1995. And in a few weeks, the company will also bring back other favourites from Duke’s original portfolio: Masala Soda, Gingerade and Ice Cream Soda almost seven years after they went out of production.

This, as explicitly stated by the company, is an attempt to cash in on "nostalgia", for what is Mumbai without it. For the 100 years of Duke' existence, or a little less, Duke's has completed every Parsi ceremony -- whether Navjot or a wedding – and topped every good Parsi meal in the city's Irani restaurants, especially Raspberry soda. No one knows where the association really began. But begin it did, and it stays. And it is this idea of an exclusive experience that is likely to drive initial sales, even though Sanjay Mishra, executive director-West Market Unit, PepsiCo Beverages, India, says they are tapping into the repertoire for the young consumer who wants variety.

The old range of Duke's sodas that the company is bringing back. Image Courtesy PepsiCo, India.

Will these sodas stand for their own without the tease of being selectively available at quaint Irani joints is something to be seen.

Meanwhile, Ivan Thankappan, a true-blue Bombay boy, is happy to hear the news. "I was just thinking about it the other day," he says. The colourful sodas, to him, were about Sunday lunches with his dad and siblings at the New Empire that almost always involved cake and raspberry soda. "If you had an upset stomach, you picked up a Ginger or had it after a heavy meal. Raspberry was a kid's favourite. Then, you mostly found it in South Mumbai or parts of Mahim...
I feel absurd that people don't know about the raspberry soda."

Mr Irani at Jimmy Boy, an Irani joint at Fort, says it is impossible to have a Parsi wedding without Duke's Raspberry soda and they were disappointed when it was taken off the market. "It was always the first, and there was a certain association with the shape of the bottle.” There are other brands in the market – Roger’s and Pallonji, one of which they currently stock, "but they don’t compare... I am waiting for the whole line-up to be announced." His guess is that the drink is popular because it’s “a fun, bubbly and cheerful drink.”

Basudev Biswas, 53, is a little less romantic about the drink than most of us. To have Duke's at a Parsi wedding, he feels, is putting the drink in a context – of a certain aloofness and exclusivity in that people go looking for the sodas in only at certain places, an Irani eatery for instance. Out of that context, “it’s carbonated water in another colour; I won’t go looking for it.” “You went to have it only sometimes, so it was a break from the colas. It is like Galouti Kebab; you go for it once in a while,” he says.

The sodas have only been launched in Mumbai that will be the testing ground before they go elsewhere, too.

Image on the section page by Ashley R. Good via Flickr.

Updated Date: Oct 20, 2011 15:35 PM